Nanci Griffith, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter who fused folk and country, died today (August 13th) in Nashville. She was 68 years old. The cause of death is unknown.
Griffith’s recording career spanned five decades and nearly 20 albums, including 1994’s Other Voices, Other Rooms, a collection of classic folk songs with collaborations with Emmylou Harris, John Prine, Arlo Guthrie and Guy Clark, for which she won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album .
Griffith was born on July 6, 1953 in Seguin, Texas, but grew up in Austin, and by the age of 12 she had already written her first song and played her first gig. She attended the University of Texas and began working as a teacher before devoting herself entirely to music in 1977. In 1978, Griffith’s debut album There’s a Light Beyond These Woods won a songwriting award at the Kerrville Folk Festival.
She moved to Nashville in the early 80s and wrote songs for Suzy Bogguss, Kathy Mattea, Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett and Dolly Parton. She recorded several solo albums for the independent Philo Records before making one after her 1986 album The Last of the True Believers, which Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame, described as “a template for today’s Americana music.” Received major label deal with MCA. ”
Her first hit as an artist was a cover of Julie Gold’s “From a Distance”, which Bette Midler would later record with even greater success. It was a subject that would persist throughout Griffith’s career; Although she never had a radio hit of her own, songs she wrote or performed would achieve greater commercial success if recorded by others. Kathy Mattea’s version of “Love at the Five and Dime” peaked at number 3 on the country charts in 1986, and Suzy Bogguss had a top 10 hit in 1991 with “Outbound Plane,” which Griffith wrote with Tom Russell for their album Little Love Affairs, was a top 10 hit for Suzy Bogguss in 1991.
As a masterful storyteller, her music was often permeated with pointed social comments and later with an explicitly political orientation. Her song “Trouble in the Fields” from 1987, which sang about the plight of the farmers in the country, and her anti-racist screed from 1989 “It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go” drew a parallel to the prejudices between Catholic children in Belfast and black children in Chicago. Her 2009 album The Loving Kind was inspired by Mildred Loving’s obituary; it contained sharp criticism of then-outgoing President George W. Bush.
Griffith was recognized by the Americana Music Association with the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Trailblazer Award. Her last album was Intersection in 2012.